Michael Rapaport On Directing His “Love Letter” to A Tribe Called Quest


“You’re never going to in 95 minutes get a…you get a sense of who all those guys [Tribe] really are, and that’s who they are. You get to see all of them as human beings. That’s the goal of any art – to make it human, make it accessible.” – Michael Rapaport

Michael Rapaport has played many roles – characters so human and memorable that he’s known more by their names sometimes than his own. “Remy,” the gun-toting, skinhead, college sniper from Higher Learning; and “Zack” from Zebrahead, with his jaw-dropping rendition of white boys in the ‘hood and interracial dating. The New York native has certainly been typecast in his roughly 20-year acting career, but in ways that have served his “flavor” well.

Directing Beats, Rhymes & Life was a role of a whole different beast, and Rapaport’s directorial debut shows that he has the chops for creating memorable moments from behind the camera, too. He has been deemed an “honorary brother” by the interviewer on this particular evening in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, after a screening of his film for the famous CMJ Film Festival. AllHipHop.com listens in intently as Rapaport shares his thoughts on the film’s importance and beyond:

Beats, Rhymes & Life is Rapaport’s masterpiece and what he has called his “love letter” to A Tribe Called Quest, the legendary, jazz-infused beatnik rap group from Queens. The documentary, which was selected for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival this year, takes the viewer through a roller coaster ride of emotions as cameras flash back and forth on the group’s highs-and-lows, never forgetting to pay the utmost respect to the Tribe’s music and influence, New York City, and Hip-Hop culture.

Rock Steady Crew’s legendary dancer Crazy Legs joins panel moderator Wes Jackson of Brooklyn Bodega and actor/director Michael Rapaport at the 2011 CMJ Film Festival.

Couple the commentary of the film’s all-star cast with the historical references and imagery, and it becomes apparent that Rapaport knows Old School rap, especially anything from New York, where he marveled in the rappers and iconic ‘hoods shouted out in the lyrics of the greats.

“If you go over any quintiscential list of bands of any genre, A Tribe Called Quest is there, A Tribe Called Quest is Queens,” says Rapaport. “You know there’s Run-DMC, LL Cool J, but Linden Boulevard, I didn’t know what the f*ck a Linden Boulevard was until Tribe….they took me to a place I had never been to before…Wu-Tang Clan, unless you were from Staten Island…we didn’t even know Staten has projects. Now it becomes this place called ‘Shaolin.’”

Rapaport has just finished wrapping up a question-and-answer period with moderator Wes Jackson, head of Brooklyn Bodega, and attendees, and is bonding with the audience, including a pint-sized B-Girl who decided to post on the couch during his interview. He is down-to-earth, and proud of the response he receives from the film. Any controversy that comes from what he’s portrayed about rappers Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, or any portion of the film, seems an afterthought.

The film answers questions from the group’s mysterious past, like, as Rapaport ponders, “What the f*ck happened to Jarobi? Jarobi was like an urban myth…you would hear Jarobi’s at Rikers Island, Jarobi has AIDS, Jarobi’s a crack addict. That was one of the questions I wanted to answer – what’s up, Jarobi? Where the f*ck you been??” Rapaport says long-missing member Jarobi was gregarious and very open – as a result, Jarobi’s scenes are some of the most emotional and pivotal onscreen moments. One also gets the sense that Ali Shaheed is a quiet man very much caught in the middle of a loud, ongoing, but mostly peaceful family fight.

That question is answered and much more in Beats, Rhymes & Life. What Rapaport has created is a high-quality Hip-Hop love letter that feels good when it needs to, and cuts deep like a knife at other times – just like love.

Beats, Rhymes & Life is available on DVD right now, and is well worth the purchase price. In addition, A Tribe Called Quest receives a percentage of DVD sales, and as you will see in the film, one of the group members is literally counting on your support.